Farmers need to become activists for agriculture

Commentary for Feedstuffs newspaper; August 2009

By Don Hutchens

Don Hutchens is a lifelong farmer, former director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, past board of directors of the U.S. Grains Council, member of the National Corn Growers Assn.’s Ag Industry Council and executive director of the Nebraska Corn Board, which represents the 26,000 corn producers of Nebraska.

As executive director of the Nebraska Corn Board, I was thrilled that more than 5,000 Nebraskans submitted comments to Environmental Protection Agency in support of 15 percent ethanol to be used in our nation’s fuel supply. It shows how strongly our corn producers feel about seeing ethanol survive and shows what farmers can do when they get behind an issue.

Yet that is just the tip of the iceberg that corn farmers – all farmers, in fact – need to rally around. We must address head on issues from all kinds of organizations and special interest groups. On the top of that list are those who paint farming and today’s food production as some sort of villain.

Groups like the Grocery Manufacturers Association wrongly blame corn-based ethanol for higher food prices. At the same time, GMA questions the environmental performance of agriculture and the people who work hard every day to make sure we have the safest, most abundant and cheapest food supply in the world.

GMA doesn’t understand that corn farmers today are easily meeting the needs of all industries that rely on corn. By attacking farmers and not using facts and sound science, GMA is hurting itself and its credibility by making farmers and food look bad. It is a foolish web to weave.

Then there are movies and books like King Corn, Food Inc., Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore’s Dilemma that take potshots at farming and ranching. While we respect that people have opinions, we don’t like those who try to turn opinions into facts.

The latest on the list, of course, is the movie Food Inc. It hypes and scares and misrepresents and misinforms. And along the way, it bashes today’s food and farm production and pretends that farmers, ranchers and food companies have something to hide.

Chipotle, the fast food burrito chain, signed up to providing free showings of the movie. This moves Chipotle from a restaurant that believes it serves food with integrity to backing a movie that has none.

We need to stand up to these organizations and explain that our farmers and livestock producers are the best in the world at what they do. We equally need to become activists for our industry.

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